At least 12 civilians have been injured after a chemical attack in the Iraqi city of Mosul, marking the first known instance that chemical weapons have been used in the battle for the Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Friday that 12 patients, including women and children, have been treated at a referral hospital in Erbil for respiratory symptoms and blistering. The victims include a 1-month-old baby and an 11-year-old boy.
"Of these, 4 patients are showing severe signs associated with exposure to a blister agent," the World Health Organization said in a statement. "WHO and partners are working with health authorities in Erbil to provide support in managing these patients."
It marks the first time that chemical weapons are known to have been used in the battle for Mosul. "WHO is extremely alarmed by the use of chemical weapons in Mosul, where innocent civilians are already facing unimaginable suffering as a result of the ongoing conflict," the organization said.
It was not immediately known who was responsible for the attack in east Mosul, although the mortars are believed to have been fired from west Mosul, which is still under the control of Islamic State militants who face an approaching military offensive.
ISIS is known to have a chemical weapons program and has used such weapons before, though most attacks have so far been relatively small. A report published in November 2016 said the group is believed to have used chemical weapons at least 54 times in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and November 2016.
"WHO has been taking concrete steps to ensure preparedness for the potential use of chemical weapons, together with local health authorities," WHO said. "WHO experts have trained more than 120 clinicians and provided them with equipment to safely decontaminate and stabilize patients before they are referred to pre-identified hospitals for further care."
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